Thursday, 28 December 2006

Square Eyes

People sometimes say to me "Phil, you don't get out much - what's good on TV?". And once I've gone through the K├╝bler-Ross grief cycle, I've got a pretty good answer. And it ain't from here.

I'm as sceptical as the next man when it comes to American TV, but there does appear to be a glut of great shows that have come out in the past year. Some of them haven't made it big here in the UK yet. But thanks to the wonders of the internets, these shows can be watched in the UK the day after they air in the States. So, in my view, here are the shows that are going to make it big pretty soon (links are all to the relevant pages on Wikipedia, you can link off to official sites from there if you want).

  • Dexter - Serial killer who only kills serial killers. Genius. HBO production. Stars the guy off Six Feet Under.
  • Heroes - Cartoon-like action adventure featuring a dozen or so people who discover that they've got supernatural powers and have to save the world. Like X-Men but with more character development and distinctly different production values (slick but different)
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Great new show from Aaron Sorkin (who wrote the first four seasons of The West Wing) which follows the production of a show similar to Saturday Night Live. The writing is simply awesome, but it's well acted too. Stars Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.
  • Big Love - Polygamous family living in modern day Salt Lake City, starring Bill Paxton of Weird Science and Apollo 13 fame. Season 1 finished a wee while ago (indeed I think they showed it on Channel 5 over here), but the next season is due to start soon and I'm looking forward to it.
You can thank me later.

Oh, and some of the perennial favorites are still hitting the mark. Especially South Park - If you haven't seen Season 10, and in particular the Make Love, Not Warcraft episode, then you are missing out. Seriously! You can watch it lo-fi here on Youtube if you like. Lost and Battlestar Galactica seem to be waning in their third seasons, but they're still worth a watch. And Family Guy, Scrubs and The Office (US version) are still LOL funny.

I really don't get out much.

Oh, and if you're wondering how I get to watch this stuff...well....lets just say that I have a friend who tells me all about them. I wouldn't dare use BitTorrent to download everything for free the day after it airs in the States. That wouldn't be legal. Oh no sir. And I wouldn't get all my torrent files from Torrent Spy or Mininova either.

Now, I want to know why it is that we can't produce great TV over here. Even something as 'innovative' as Doctor Who looks amateurish next to the American shows, in terms of production values, quality of acting and quality of writing especially. I haven't bothered watching Doctor Who since they ripped off The Matrix and about three other films in the first episode of the latest series.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Google Goodness

Every now and again, a really cool feature comes out from Google to blow me away. I've been using Google Spreadsheets on and off for a little while, but didn't realise you could publish your spreadsheets to the general public - like this one, which I intend to use in a work presentation about the Rational Unified Process. And the really cool thing? You can subscribe to it via RSS to be notified about changes.

Not that I'm going to be making many changes to this document, but I did want to share it during my presentation and make it available afterwards, so I like the sharing part. And that was after I'd emailed myself the document and GMail invited me to open it in Google Spreadsheets rather than in Excel (it did give me the choice). Seamless, and not a little bit exciting.

Not bad for a free product. Are you watching, Microsoft?

Sunday, 17 December 2006

RSS feed goodness

One of the benefits of transferring to Blogger is that I can now set up RSS feeds from my blogging account. If you have an RSS feed reader or aggregator, you can now be informed of updates to this site by subscribing via the link at the bottom of the page.

If you're unsure about what RSS means or how it works, I recommend you check out this simple description on the BBC website. Or maybe this link from Wikipedia. Or just ask me.

Dinosaur Jr.

Click on the thumbnail for more pictures!

I don't get out much. Having a pregnant wife and a 15 month daughter means I have to pick and choose my nights out carefully. Films are pretty much ruled out. Gigs too. That is, until Dinosaur Jr come to town.

The seminal grunge outfit of the late 80s and early 90s formed the backbone of my music collection in my late teens and early 20s. The aloof front man, J.Mascis, frequently features in the "best guitarist ever" polls in music magazines, at least when guitarists themselves are polled.

They split up in the mid-nineties, and did they own thing, and it was something of a surprise when they reformed. Even more of a surprise when they announced a tour. And even more amazing when they included London on their route - this without an album to promote, yet. So when they rolled into town, I decided it was definitely worth using up one of my precious nights out.

So it was with a sense of expectation and excitement that I arrived at the Mean Fiddler last night (formerly the LA2, on the Charing Cross Road). A mixed crowd had turned up to see the masters at work - plenty of folks my age, who remember Dinosaur Jr from last time (one of which was carrying a copy of the Guardian and wearing a blazer - I'm guessing a step away from his teenage attire). Plus several youngsters too, with creative haircuts and tattoos, presumably here for a glimpse of the group who inspired their current favorites.

And inspirational they were. These days, groups with serious guitar credentials usually namecheck Neil Young, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Dinosaur Jr. The fact that people on the street don't seem to have heard of Dinosaur Jr baffles me to this day. Their 1996 classic album, Where You Been, still features in my all time top five.

The warm up act was the Dinosaur Jr bassist, Lou Barlow, who did an acoustic set of his own material - it was OK, but I'll save my column inches for the main event.

At 9.30pm, J and the team strolled on stage. The group themselves have aged with time, of course. J's trademark long straight hair has turned from black to grey. The old, bald drummer was wearing a short sleeved rugby top (rock and roll!). And the bassist's long curly hair dangled over his face, hiding his age. But who cares - as long as they play great music.

And play great music they did. It was a perfect mix of old stuff (The Wagon, Freakscene, Out There), very old stuff (from their first two albums, Dinosaur and You're Living All Over Me) and new stuff (which stacked up really well against the classics). In fact the new stuff showed off J's talents as well as the old.

To mosh or not to mosh? Well, it was tempting. I was on the edge of what I predicted would be the moshing area as the group came on stage, I bobbed around tentatively to Out There, while younger people set the mosh standard...and then I joined in properly after three tracks. I couldn't help myself. It was just too good. The mosh was fairly tame by standards I remember from the 90s, but still I have the bruises to prove I was there.

I ended up two people from the front, right in front of J - a perfect spot to watch his fretboard action. Not that J likes to interact with crowds....aloof, remember?!

An for an encore, they did their semi-famous cover of The Cure's 'Just Like Heaven', which sent the crowd into a frenzied singalong. They didn't play a couple of my favorites (such as What Else Is New?, and Let It Ride - the latter being my all time fave Dino track) - but he hit all the other buttons. Oh yeah, he's still got it.

The Dinosaur is back.

I like to ride my bicycle

I've been cycling to work 2-4 days a week for three months now, and figured I should recount my experiences for those thinking of doing the same. Or those who are surprised that someone with my portly figure can cycle 12 miles to work and still do a day's work. And then cycle back.

First off, my motivations. I'm 33 with a young daughter and another kid on the way. And no matter how much enthusiasm I put behind a new fitness regime - whether it be gym based or outdoors - my enthusiasm tends to fade after a few weeks. Meanwhile I slide into middle aged obesity with too little resistence. I want to see my kids grow up.

And I've been paying a small fortune to South West Trains to sit on a stationary train outside stations. Time to take things into my own hands.

It was of course a risk buying a bike. What if I got bored with it? What if the distance was too much (12 miles in, 12 miles back)? What if I got knocked off?

So I threw caution to the wind, and picked up a bike. My company, LBi, do a great scheme (called BOOOST) where the cost of bikes is heavily subsidised, and payments are spread over 18 months. And I figured that getting a decent set of wheels would be more likely to inspire me to keep it up. I told the stockist what my priorities - safety, weight and speed, in that order - and he recommended the Ridgeback Genesis Day 6, shown above. Mine doesn't have the drop handlebars, mind.

The ride itself has been pretty good. It takes about an hour to get in, which is how long most people spend in the gym, so it's not like I'm running the marathon or anything. And of course some of it is downhill. Doing it back the same day is pretty tough, but I seem to be managing OK.

The main obstacle - apart from drivers not using their freakin' indicators (what is wrong with you people?) - has turned out to be kids throwing stones. My route takes me through the People's Paradise of Lambeth, and there's this one spot where one kid acts as lookout and tells his mate round the corner who is coming. They've missed me every time so far. Little tinkers. If they're reading this, then here's my route - Bring It On. *

And then there's the peds. I used to be one, so I know what its like - you're locked away in your cosy iPod bubble - and then a bike comes out of nowhere. Well, now I'm the bike. So we've exchanged words...."Get off the road", "SHADDUP......prick...." and we'll see where things go from there.

I was right about being inspired by a decent bike, by the way. Normally I look forward to climbing on, even if its raining. Haven't this week mind, I've been ill and don't want to push it. Plus there has been particularly terrible weather.

* Of course I don't say that their faces. I don't like stones - at least not ones thrown at my face.

Time for a change

I knew it was time to change to a modern blogging tool when I had something to write about, but couldn't be bothered to hard code an update. And then ftp it up to the server. And then check it. And then backup my files. And so on.

So here we are, I've plumped for Blogger as it's free and it's from Google - so it's reliable and I can use my Google login to log in. From anywhere. Including my mobile phone. As they say on DL.TV....nice! You can now comment away to your heart's content.

Old content is still available, and can be found at on my old site. And I'll still host my photos there for the time being.